Friday, April 29, 2005

Dryden Against the Deist

The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
Cries eureka the mighty secret's found:
God is that spring of good; supreme, and best;
We, made to serve, and in that service blest;
If so, some rules of worship must be given;
Distributed alike to all by Heaven:
Else God were partial, and to some deny'd
The means his justice should for all provide.
This general worship is to PRAISE, and PRAY:
One part to borrow blessings, one to pay:
And when frail Nature slides into offence,
The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
Yet, since th'effects of providence, we find
Are variously dispens'd to human kind;
That vice triumphs, and virtue suffers here,
(A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear;)
Our reason prompts us to a future state:
The last appeal from fortune, and from fate:
Where God's all-righteous ways will be declar'd;
The bad meet punishment, the good, reward.

Thus man by his own strength to Heaven would soar:
And would not be oblig'd to God for more.
Vain, wretched creature, how art thou misled
To think thy wit these god-like notions bred!
These truths are not the product of thy mind,
But dropt from Heaven, and of a nobler kind.
Reveal'd religion first inform'd thy sight,
And reason saw not, till faith sprung the light.
Hence all thy natural worship takes the source:
'Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
Which so obscure to heathens did appear?


John Dryden (1631-1700), from "Religio Laici". It's hard to find didactic poetry at this high a level -- the argument, while obviously a bit condensed and floralized, is a good one (so that it is really didactic rather than pseudo-didactic), but it still manages somehow to sound less preachy than (say) Pope.

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